WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LIX) 10/04/21

3:12 We are not to be like Cain, who belonged to Satan and killed his brother. Why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing wrong, he knew very well that his brother’s life was better than his.

The Apostle John was not talking about a new sinful virus strain. When the hateful Jews were stoning Presbyter Stephen for his message and faith in Jesus as the Anointed One, he told them he was not surprised because their forefathers persecuted every prophet who lived. It included those who prophesied that the Anointed One would come. And now they had turned against that Anointed One themselves and killed him.[1] So, we should not be surprised when the Apostle Paul wrote the Thessalonians and told them that there were still Jews around with the same idea, but since the Anointed One ascended back into heaven, and they can’t reach Him, we would now take the hatred they meant for Him on us to His glory.[2] Also, concerning this same hostility, the Apostles did not spare Gentiles their fair share of criticism. The Apostle Peter mentions that some of those he was writing to had friends in the world who thought it strange that they no longer joined them in all the wild and wasteful things they used to do. And so, they started spreading rumors of the bad things they once did to ruin their reputations as Christians.[3]

Meanwhile, Jesus did not treat His enemies with destructive tactics, just disdain. In fact, He told them that when they stood before God at the judgment seat, they would be found guilty of causing the death of His people.[4] That’s why they should know that if they change their mind and want to belong to this fellowship of believers, they will come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. They will come to God, the Judge of all people, and the hospitality of blessed people who have been made perfect. They will enjoy communion with Jesus – the One who brought the Final Covenant from God to His children. Thus, they will arrive at the place of the sprinkling of His blood[5] that had a better message than the blood of Abel.[6]

There is an interesting conversation between Cain and Abel found in a Jewish Commentary. It goes this way: “And Cain said to Abel, his brother, come, and let us go out into the field. And when they arrived in the field, Cain continued and said to Abel, I perceive that the world was created in goodness, but it is not governed (or conducted) according to the fruit of good works. Therefore, there is respect [special privileges] to persons in judgment. Consequently, it is that your offering was accepted, with goodwill and not mine. So, Abel answered Cain: the world was created in goodness and governed according to good fruit. Therefore, there is no respect [special privileges] of persons in judgment. But because the fruit of my works was better than yours, my offering was accepted with goodwill, and yours was not. So, Cain answered and said to Abel, there is neither judgment nor Judge, nor another world; nor will any good reward be given to the righteous, nor vengeance taken out on the wicked. And Abel answered Cain, there is a judgment, and there is a Judge; and there is another world and a good reward given to the righteous, and vengeance taken out on the wicked. And because of these words, they had a disagreement out in the field; and Cain rose against Abel his brother, and drove a stone into his forehead, and killed him.”[7]

In other sayings by early Jewish authors, Rabbi Jochanan stated that Cain did not know that our secrets are revealed to the Holy One, blessed be He.[8] Cain took the corpse of his brother Abel and laid it in a hole that he dug in the field. But then the Holy One, blessed be He, asked him, where is your brother Abel? Cain responded by telling the Sovereign of the world that all he did was take care of a vineyard and a farm, so why should he be responsible for his brother? The Holy One, blessed be He, revealed that He had heard that he killed his brother and took possession of his wife and flocks in the field. In fact, his brother’s blood cried out to Him from his grave.

When Cain heard this, he was horrified. He cried out in grief to the Holy One, blessed be He, that his sin was more than he could bear because this was no forgiveness for such things. This statement was accepted as his repentance. But Cain asked the Lord, “will some righteous person come along and rebuke me in your great Name and kill me?” So, the Holy One, blessed be He, took one Hebrew letter from the twenty-two in the alphabet and attached it to Cain’s arm so that he would not be killed. Meanwhile, Abel’s shepherd dogs guarded his corpse against all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. So, the Holy One, blessed be He, cursed Cain so that he would become a drifter.[9]

Now, what we know about the Apostle John,[10] he was not an educated individual. That means he was not taught how to read or write. Everything was learned through oral teaching in those days. These sayings of the early Jewish Fathers had not yet been collected and written down; they were transmitted by mouth. So, that does not leave out the possibility that John may have heard these teachings and thought this story of Cain and Abel was an excellent object lesson to insert here in his epistle.

And during John’s time, the great Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (BC 20-50 AD) offered his philosophical view of what John says here in verse eight. As Philo says, “for the field to which he [Cain] invites him [Abel] we may call a symbol of rivalry and contention.”[11] In its fallen, self-loving, materialistic-minded condition, Cain’s ego resisted the simple purity of his better nature, seeking to draw Abel into an internal rationalistic dispute. So, the Cain part of our mind excels in developing rationalizations, logical and inaccurate arguments.

On the other hand, our Abel-disposition, childlike and trusting, is ill-equipped to rebut these dishonesties and should resist the challenge – at least until it develops skill in emerging counter-arguments. So, what Cain proposes to do is this: having by invitation led Abel into a dispute, to gain the mastery over him by reasonable fraud-like thoughts that have the appearance of truth. It involves forming conjectures of uncertain things from our perspective. Therefore, we think the area where Cain invites Abel to symbolize strife and conflict. We must now question what these matters are all about, so we foolishly decide to start an intellectual investigation.

It is indeed plain that they are opposite and rival opinions: Abel, who refers everything to God, is the God-loving opinion; and Cain, who refers everything to himself (for his name, being interpreted, means acquisition), is the self-loving opinion. Many people are self-loving when, entering the arena with those who honor virtue, never cease struggling against them with every kind of weapon. They keep this up until the virtuous person surrenders or is utterly demoralized. Therefore, it would have been well for Abel to have exercised the virtue of caution and stayed at home, disregarding the invitation to the arena of discussion to contend with Cain. He should have imitated Rebecca, a symbol of patient waiting. When Esau, the companion of wickedness, was making threats, she advised Jacob, the practitioner of wisdom, to retreat until Esau relaxed his fierce hostility toward him.

All of this may sound highly intellectual and on a philosophical level of reasoning for the average person, but in reality, it opens the door for us to look at what John says here about deeds that can either be good or evil. It all starts with our attitude and mindset. Are those who oppose us controlling our logic and will, or are we under the governorship of the Holy Spirit? John says it all starts with loving one another. So, instead of taking differences as an insult, we take them as issues to discuss. But, John says, the world is uncomfortable with this because their differences are a badge of honor. Once removed, however, they have no choice but to accept what they’ve heard.

John is trying to tell us that we should not do what Cain did, who, under Satanic influence, schemed to get rid of his brother. Cain’s conduct typifies the attitude of the world towards Christians. The Greek verb sphazō (“slew” – KJV) in the Final Covenant occurs only here and in Revelation.[12] The Septuagint Version and the Final Covenant seem to indicate “slay” without necessarily implying the cutting of a victim’s throat. Cain’s works being called evil is not stated in Genesis, but inferred in God’s rejection.[13] The world’s wicked envy the good in blessings and try to destroy what cannot be shared with them – the war between evil and good aims at extermination. The wicked try to destroy the righteous with hatred, while the righteous extinguish the wicked’s hostility by converting them with love.

John, in this verse, offers representatives of two different spiritual families: the family of God and the brood of Satan. Cain represents Satan’s vipers, and Abel represents the family of God. These families stand in stark contrast to one another. John says what love is not before he says what love is. It is not Cain’s attitude and action toward Abel;[14] it is Cain’s jealous resentment of his brother’s more acceptable sacrifice that drove him to kill Abel.[15]  Cain was religious but lost. He was lost because his offering was not sufficient to meet God’s demands.


[1] Acts of the Apostles 7:52

[2] 1 Thessalonians 2:14

[3] 1 Peter 4:4

[4] Matthew 23:35; cf. Luke 11:51

[5] This is reference to the blood that is sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement

[6] Hebrews 12:23-24

[7] The Targum of Palestine by Jonathan ben Uzziel, Genesis 4:8

[8] This tag line that is said every time after mentioning God’s name is the same as what Jesus repeated in the prayer He gave His disciples: “Our Father which are in heaven, blessed be He.”

[9] Pirḳê de Rabbi Eliezer, translated by Gerald Friedlander, published by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd. London, 1916, pp. 155-156

[10] Acts of the Apostles, 4:13

[11] Philo: That the Worse Attacks the Better, Early Christian Writings, ⁋ I:1

[12] Revelation 5:6, 9, 12; 6:4, 9; 13:3, 8; 18:24

[13] Cf. Hebrews 11:4

[14] Genesis 4:8

[15] Ibid. 4:1-7

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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